Living a Legacy Without Needing a Legacy

If I could begin life again, I might start First Grade with the deep appreciation of learning, which has taken me more than 20 years to cultivate.
 
My most recent topics of interest: history & Christianity. Exploring the richness of the Christian tradition has been my driving intrigue since my spirit first came alive with this revelation:  "I think there's something about this 'Jesus' guy.“

Standing on the shoulders of giants, I hope, might add brilliance to my own adventure of faith.

 I'm sure we've all heard the old adage, "What would Jesus do?" John Mark Comer's The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry, alters the question slightly to "What would Jesus do if He were me?" In this spirit, I've maintained the Bible as the most important guide to answer this question, but I've also decided to study how past Christians have interpreted the way of Jesus throughout time.
 
In the Beginning: Christianity in Rome before Constantine
 
After the Resurrection, Jesus told the original twelve disciples (the Apostles) to "wait for the baptism of the Holy Spirit." Faithfully, they waited, and when the Spirit fell at Pentecost, the Apostolic age of Christianity began. They got right to work beginning to fulfill the Great Commission, proclaiming and preaching the Gospel: "Did you hear the Good News? Jesus is Lord!" The cost of discipleship was high—Paul's and Peter's refusal to stop preaching the Gospel after being warned (Acts 4:18-20) put them on that day's FBI's "most wanted" list—both by Jewish religious leaders and by Roman political leaders. The Apostolic Age ended with all but one of the Twelve being martyred for their faith.

But the persecution was far from over for this early Church (I'll avoid the stats, because they're deeply sad). Because the bar of entry was so high, there were no lukewarm Christians. You were either all in or you were not in at all. Thankfully, during the fourth century, this period of Christian persecution ended in the Roman Empire with the conversion of Constantine.

Constantine's Conversion

Some scholars debate the authenticity of Emperor Constantine's conversion, but it's clear that the persecution slowed down. The next main problem the church in Rome faced wasn't an outright rejection, but a lukewarm acceptance. Where becoming a Christian had once come at an enormous cost, now becoming a Christian wasn't just de-stigmatized—it actually came with social benefits. We could, perhaps, call this the invention of "cultural Christianity.”

I bring up these examples, because I think we can learn a lot about human civilizations by looking through the lens of history. During this new Roman acceptance of Christianity, some Christians were horrified. These Christians would eventually come to be called The Desert Fathers and Mothers. "Recalling the humility and simplicity of Jesus, they worried that His followers were being corrupted, His gospel diluted, and His holy bride exploited. Refusing to conform, they determined to seek out a simpler, humbler, holier way of life in the Egyptian and Syrian wilderness" (p.46, How to Pray by Pete Greig).

Synthesis: Following Jesus in America, 2021

 John Mark Comer, in his sermon entitled The Remnant, said, "Historians argue our late-modern Western world is closer to that of the New Testament than the West has been in over a millennium and the metaphor that the writers of Scripture use to name the felt experience of our time is 'exile'." I might not go that far in my own opinion, but it's definitely weird to be a Christian in the U.S. right now. "Christianity" comes with a stigma—a small stigma when compared to the global Christian Church, but a real stigma nonetheless.

 I'm basing a lot of this observance on my own experience as well. I became a Christian in 2015 because I was deeply compelled by the person of Jesus as revealed in the Gospels. However, I had some bad stereotypes about Christians in my heart. Fortunately, getting to know some genuine followers of Jesus alleviated my fears (mostly).

 Regardless of how severe this 'exile' is, or whether it is an exile at all (I could make an argument either way), I think we can learn a lot from other Christians who have lived through exile. Here's a few practicals that are helping me follow Jesus as sincerely as I can:

 1)    Find a close community that you can process with

 It's far too confusing to try to figure this all out on your own. In fact, one of the first things in the Bible God says about humans is that "it is not good for [them] to be alone". So, find people who are willing to accept your authentic process with God, who want to go after God's heart as well, and open your heart to be loved, corrected, and affected by them. One note on building community; it's a slow process that continues throughout your lifetime. Being open to being loved requires being open to being hurt; that's not to say you should stay in a community that's bad for your soul, that's just to highlight a reality of vulnerability. It's scary and difficult, and you'll likely never arrive at 'perfect' community, but, I promise, it's a treasure that's worth searching for and working for.

 2)    Develop healthy spiritual rhythms that work for the unique way God made you

 "Spiritual rhythms" is kind of a large, all-encompassing term. Essentially, if I had to boil it down, I'd call it "practicals that help me be open to receiving God's love, which help me to be capable of loving God more fully and loving my neighbor more sincerely". It includes (but isn't limited to): Sabbath, regular prayer, reading the Scriptures, learning from teachers, sharing about your personal relationship God with your community. But it can include (almost) anything. For me, going on walks is really helpful to getting filled. Music serves a similar function. I'd recommend books like God in My Everything by Ken Shigematsu or, the book that helped me get excited about spiritual rhythms, The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry by John Mark Comer. (You could also check out his church's website on this topic: https://bridgetown.church/practices). This is also a great thing to discuss and get ideas about from your community.

 3)    Pray your heart to God, yield to His will

If you can't tell by now, I really like John Mark Comer, even if I don't agree with him on everything. Another thing he said in a sermon from his church's Vision 2020 series, although I can't remember which sermon exactly was: "We believe God never causes bad things to happen, but we believe that He often uses those experiences to grow us." In this theological point, I agree with him. No shame if you're in a good season of life! But, this season is difficult for most of us. Most of us are interceding for a better season – and I think that's a good and holy thing to pray for. However, if we are so future-focused, we may miss what God is doing in the present moment, and the present moment is the only place we have to interact with God. So, pray for the seasons to change, according to your heart. Then, whether things change or not, trust that God is just as powerful in this season as He is in any other season. For me, yielding to God's will often looks as simple as just asking: "God, what are we gonna do today? How can I best 'remain in You' today?" and then keeping my eyes and heart open to see who I can bless throughout my day.

Conclusion

 So, how does any of this relate to Legacy? Well, because I think I agree with what Bob said a few Wednesday nights ago: "The most important choice a Christian can make [is] choosing to live the rest of our life for the glory, for the purposes of God." I intellectually believe that, at the end of the day, that's not only the most important decision a Christian can make—it's the decision we have already made, choosing to be followers of Jesus— to know Him, to have relationship with Him, and to love Him. It is then our responsibility to be the people God made us to be and to follow God wherever He leads us.

 My mind also tangents to 1 Corinthians 3:6-7, where Paul, discussing his own ministry efforts, and the division people created around which apostle they followed, says: "I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow."
 
Ultimately, I think this is the only way practicing the way of Jesus has ever or could ever leave a meaningful legacy. We plant seeds, we water, we sow—and then, we wait. It is our job to be faithful to God, and God's promise to be faithful to us. So, how do we leave a legacy? Well, I don't really think we do. I think our legacy is something God is working through us. It's our job to know God, to trust God, and to surrender to God. In that, God can create meaning and eternal legacy from the vapor that is your life. "Legacy" doesn't need to be a selfish concept; rather, our legacy is created through our faithfulness, smoothed-over by the abundant mercy and grace of our God, perfected by the Author and Perfecter of our faith, Jesus—revealed through His Kingdom coming to earth.
 
So, we pray for God's Kingdom to come, we act in accordance with the Spirit that leads us, and we wait on God to bring the harvest that we have been sowing into. This requires perseverance  and just a mustard seed of faith—and then we get to watch God do beyond what we can possibly think or imagine. I mean... I have a pretty good imagination. I can't wait to see God supersede my imagination throughout all the earth! Until then, I try to be faithful, trusting God as my Shepherd to correct me when I do it wrong, and to show me how to partner with him.

Author | Andrew Elder

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